One Billion Rising Against Victim Porn

#onebillionrising was met with some confusion by my flatmates and friends on Valentine’s Day 2013. One thought I developed a sudden bizarre paranoia about the emergence of China as a global superpower. Another thought I had misinterpreted Batman. My referral to ‘V-Day’ had a friend thinking I was re-living May 8th 1945. By others it was met with a kind of bafflement and vague interest. What invoked a much stronger reaction and response, however, was the horrific news of emerging events in a mansion in Pretoria.

Image courtesy of avv.samoano, © 2013, some rights reserved.

Image courtesy of avv.samoano, © 2013, some rights reserved.

One Billion Rising is a global campaign by women, for women. It seeks to end violence against women and calls for justice and equality. The ‘One Billion’ refers to the brutal and shocking statistic that one in three women on the planet will be raped or beaten in their lifetime, approximately one billion women. The movement was founded by Eve Ensler, campaigner and playwright best known for her play The Vagina Monologues and her organisation of V- Day, an annual global movement to end violence against women and girls.

The movement claims ‘one million violated is an atrocity, one million dancing is a revolution’. Dancing takes up space, it’s disruptive, joyous, breaks the rules, is spontaneous, uncontrollable, free and transcendent. Women worldwide danced for equality, liberty, freedom and in solidarity. From Indian women furious at passivity to sexual violence, to Afghani women marching on their Parliament to highlight violence against women, to Bangladeshi women forming human chains, to events in Egypt where the new constitution does not enshrine women’s rights. It was a moving, vibrant and exciting spectacle.

However, perhaps Valentine’s Day this year will be remembered less for One Billion Rising flashmobs and more for the alleged murder of Reeva Steenkamp by her celebrity partner, Oscar Pistorius. The ensuing media circus following the fate of the ‘Blade Runner’ and his apparent penchant for guns and fast boats ran alongside speculation over what this would mean for his career and the effect on global Paralympic representation on the global stage. Gory details surrounding cricket bats and bathroom doors were combed over in minute detail. What appeared to be absent though was the fact tragically Reeva Steenkamp had become one of the billion women who suffer violence. Alongside the coverage of Pistorius overwhelmed by emotion in court ran numerous pictures of Steenkamp in various states of undress from past modelling shoots. Clearly I missed the memo that said it was okay to publically eroticise a murder victim.

Although following the 2012 phone hacking scandal and the 1989 Hillsborough fiction that The Sun put out on its pages, I genuinely didn’t think anything like that could ever happen again. I have been proven spectacularly wrong. Leading its front page coverage last Friday (Feb 15th) on the Pistorius murder charges was a large picture of Steenkamp pulling down the zip of a bikini top. Yes Ms Steenkamp was a model and yes she was highly successful at it. But when was the last time tabloid newspapers coverage of a murder victim who was also a doctor or a shop assistant ran front pages picturing them taking blood pressures or stacking shelves at the place of work? Just because it was a source of her income does not make it justified to run the pictures. The Sun’s coverage (and others- The Daily Mail and the The Daily Star sensitively printed Steenkamp’s lingerie shoots as her body lay on a morgue table) verges on victim porn.

The case has gripped and dominated the world media. What appears to have slipped by the wayside is that South Africa is the rape capital of the world. A woman is eight times more likely to be raped in South Africa than in the UK and the South African Department of Justice estimates that one in four women suffers domestic violence. South Africa also has the highest rape of ‘intimate femicide’ (women killed by their partners). In reality these statistics are significantly higher- many of these types of cases go unreported to officials.  So perhaps instead of printing huge spreads of lingerie shoots of a deceased woman, the press could dedicate their time a little more productively into reporting the violence that occurs to the billion and what the world can do about it. Failing that, they could at the very least show a sense of human decency and respect.

The bare facts of the Steenkamp- Pistorius case show a woman killed by her male partner. This in itself highlights the very core and need of movements such as onebillionrising. The coverage and eroticisation of the victim further shows the necessity for such movements.